Kauai says Superferry special session is wrong
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By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
LIHU'E, Kaua'i — Environmentalists pleaded with state senators yesterday to order a full environmental impact statement of Hawaii Superferry before it is allowed to resume operations between the islands, arguing that the Legislature should not overrule the courts.
Dozens of people filled the King Kaumuali'i Elementary School cafeteria, with the crowd spilling outside, at an informational briefing called by the state Senate to hear public comment on draft legislation to help Superferry before a possible special session.
The audience at its peak was estimated at 250 to 350 people. The meeting lasted for six hours, ending shortly before 8 p.m.
"Superferry is not welcome on Kaua'i until an EIS is completed. EIS first," said Carl Berg, an ecologist and activist.
Scott Mijares, a small-business owner who lives in Kilauea, said the Superferry project is an example of the closeness between government and corporate interests.
"This is the wrong time to make the wrong decision," Mijares warned senators.
Lingle was booed and heckled when she visited here last month to talk about a new federal security zone for Superferry at Nawiliwili Harbor, and to warn protesters of arrests and prosecution for breaking the law.
The tone of yesterday's briefing was much more civil.
WILLING TO LISTEN
State Sen. Brian Taniguchi, D-10th (Manoa, McCully), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, who is chairing the briefings, said at the outset that senators were there to listen.
Taniguchi even caused knowing laughter and applause when he warned that he would call the Coast Guard if anyone in the audience failed to turn down their cell phones and they went off.
However, people were overwhelmingly critical of the Superferry and the Lingle administration's decision to exempt the project from an environmental review.
The informational briefings will continue today on Maui and tomorrow on the Big Island. A special session, if called by Gov. Linda Lingle, could start on Wednesday.
The draft bill would allow the ferry to resume service while the state conducts an environmental review. The Lingle administration would impose operating conditions to protect whales and other marine life, deter the spread of invasive species and preserve cultural and natural resources.
An oversight task force would monitor ferry service and give monthly reports to the Legislature. The state auditor would investigate the Lingle administration's handling of the project, including the February 2005 decision to exempt it from an environmental review.
CONSIDER 29 CONDITIONS
Peter Morimoto, an attorney from Kapa'a, said lawmakers, at the very least, should add the 29 operating conditions for Superferry suggested last week by Maui environmentalists. The recommendations included slowing the ferry in waters heavily populated with whales and thoroughly inspecting vehicles.
Morimoto said Superferry should be held liable if the ferry injures whales or spreads invasive species between the Islands. He also urged senators to "stick a microscope up the Lingle administration's 'okole" through the audit.
Although some speakers opposed the Superferry project outright and said the draft legislation could be an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers between the courts and the Legislature, the message from many was that an environmental review should be done first. Some in the audience were wearing EIS First! T-shirts.
"The bill would be opening the door to exceptions to the rules," said Linda Pascatore, an activist from Hanapepe involved with the Island Breath Web site. "It would send a signal to big business that in Hawai'i the environment is not important, and that they do not have to play by the rules.
"It would be setting a precedent for exemptions from our environmental protections. It is wrong to even consider calling a special session of the Legislature and setting aside our environmental laws for the sake of one private business interest."
The state Supreme Court ruled in August that the state's decision to exempt the Superferry project from an environmental assessment was in error and ordered a review. A Maui court ruled this month that the Superferry cannot use Kahului Harbor until the review is completed.
While Maui environmentalists have mostly worked through the courts to force an environmental review of the Superferry, Kaua'i environmentalists and activists have been the tip of the spear in protests against the project.
Protesters went into Nawiliwili Harbor in August to delay the ferry's initial voyage and dramatically blocked a second voyage — a symbolic stand that has motivated activists statewide.
Keone Kealoha, of Malama Kaua'i, said people jumped into the harbor because they felt they had no other way for their voices to be heard. "Please be the voice of the people," he asked senators.
Environmentalists also brought a legal challenge to bar the ferry from Nawiliwili Harbor until an environmental review is completed, but were unsuccessful in Kaua'i court. Environmentalists are awaiting the outcome of a special session before deciding whether to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.
Some people here also realize they may be in the minority statewide. Basil Scott, an engineer who lives in Kapa'a, said there may be a 70 percent to 30 percent split on public opinion that favors the Superferry. But he said the 30 percent may be facing the greatest impact from ferry service.
Scott asked senators to put teeth into the draft such as specific operating conditions and not leave the conditions to Lingle.
"I think the question is how much rights do the 30 percent get?" Scott said.
Taniguchi said senators would evaluate people's suggestions for possible inclusion in the draft bill. He said "rumors that this is a done deal are not true."
State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), told the crowd she believes people here have received "a bad rap" and are not unwelcoming, as some on other islands have said after the protests.
"I think we need to start to heal as best we can," Hanabusa said.
State Sen. Ron Menor, D-17th (Mililani, Waipi'o), said he would likely support legislation to allow the Superferry to resume service but said, like many speakers at the briefing, that he has major concerns about letting Lingle set the operating conditions. He also questions why a Superferry executive should be on the oversight task force, as the draft bill is now written.
"I think legislation should be considered, but I view the draft as being a starting point," Menor said.
Reach Derrick DePledge at firstname.lastname@example.org.